Black smoke billowed throughout the station as concerned commuters were kept at bay while the fire was contained at platforms 17 and 18.
The attack took place in spite of a request by the Metrorail regional manager Richard Walker, for increased surveillance of trains on the day of a meeting between Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande, the Rail Safety Regulator, the Prasa board and the National Assembly committee on transport.
Nzimande condemned the settling alight of trains at the Cape Town station. “It is very clear that there is actually a plan to attack this property of Prasa that’s undermining rail passenger transport,” said Nzimande.
He said he was working with Minister of Police Bheki Cele regarding the burning of the trains.
“We are now of the view that we need to escalate this further to actually involve the entire justice, crime prevention and security cluster,” said Nzimande.
Transport MEC Donald Grant said there seems to be a pattern of occurrences of arson whenever senior officials or politicians meet in the area.
“We find this extremely concerning because it is as if the timing is deliberate,” said Grant.
Grant said, he will approach Nzimande for emergency assistance. “These criminals are not only destroying vital infrastructure, but they are sabotaging the means that hundreds of thousands of people use to get to work, school and home,” he said.
Metrorail regional spokesperson Riana Scott said a fire on board a stationary train at platform 17 was reported at 12.15pm. The flames leapt across the tracks to a train in the adjoining platform 18, and both trains were removed.
“Fire and emergency services were quick to respond to the fire and managed to contain the blaze within minutes,” said Scott.
She said, a preliminary investigation revealed that the overhead electrical wiring above the two platforms has been damaged.
The destruction of the Central Line carriages brings down the already inadequate number of trains available. The incident brought to 40 the number of trains torched in the Western Cape since 2015, and to 175 the number of carriages destroyed.
Committee members insisted the Prasa board brief them on the burning of trains and strategies to deal with the challenge.
Chairperson of the Prasa board Khanyisile Kweyama said the new board inherited an organisation that was almost broken, and reached a crisis point.
Prasa chief executive Sibusiso Sithole said the availability of train sets has decreased from 288 sets in 2013/14 to 200 by the end of 2017/18.